13 Months of Sunshine

The long-standing motto of the Ethiopian tourism committee is "13 months of sunshine." Most people think that this is cute hyperbole. It’s not. Ethiopians use a calendar that includes 12 30-day months followed a 5 or 6 day holiday month. Even during the rainy season, it’s always sunny.

Sounds confusing, right? It’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The Ethiopian calendar is also seven and a half years behind the Gregorian calendar. Any computers in Ethiopia that use the Ethiopian calendar have yet to confront their Y2K problems. Dates on passports are all written twice.

And if that wasn’t enough, the clock is also six hours different. The day is split into twelve numbered hours of sunlight and twelve numbered hours of a night. The sun rises at 1 in the morning (7AM in the west) and sets around 12:59 in the night (6:59PM or 19 in the west). It works because Ethiopia is roughly equatorial.

You can read more about all of these different systems here.

While they systems are interesting in themselves, it’s when the Ethiopian and Western systems collide that things really get fun. Most Ethiopians’ prefer their own time and date systems but know that the rest of the world does not. Since it’s pretty easy to distinguish Ethiopians from many Westerners, Ethiopians will sometimes give foreigners the time, date or year of an event, date, or appointment in Western time. Sometimes.

As a foreigner, every time an Ethiopian gives you a year number or a numerical month/date birthday, you need to ask whether it’s Ethiopian or Western time. Every time you plan an appointment or a date, you need to make sure that when you agree which system you are using. If you agree to meet at 2, you need to insure that both parties are thinking of the same 2. Every foreigner in Ethiopia makes the mistake of arriving either six hours early or six hours late at least once.

As you might imagine, it helps to have a good sense of humor if you live in Ethiopia.

5 Replies to “13 Months of Sunshine”

  1. Hi Rick, I hope you are in the best of health as always. read this about
    why we ethiopians have 13 months of sunshine?

  2. I believe you would find the same different natural, cultural and technological events and systems you discovered in Ethiopia every where in the World if you live your home.

    I felt the same experience you had when I first arrived in the West and discovered the unusual and unnatural things.

    I am sure that you and me are capable to be more baffled and amuzed by different cultures and systems that exist in the other corners of the World and distant lands. I do not mean to suggest that you thought or believed that all societies should have the same time and calendar system and weather and other social systems vastly different from the others.

    In regard to the name of the movie, nothing is extraordinary and beyond our normal imagination. If you think about it, movies are named with catching phrases that relate to unusual or normal human experiences of life, good and bad.

    I believe you see my point. But, in some way that I cannot explain, I liked your comment and find it pleasantly interesting. It is a good history and geography leason to the minimum.


  3. I tend to agree Zeg! Culture shock is not at all unique to Ethiopia. The world is a diverse place, and I think that’s beautiful and wonderful. I love Ethiopia for all these reasons and many more.

    I’m not sure why Bee is so upset!

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